Of all the undying books of my childhood — and there were many — few so imprinted on me as His Dark Materials. Devouring the entire trilogy near the eOf all the undying books of my childhood — and there were many — few so imprinted on me as His Dark Materials. Devouring the entire trilogy near the end of middle school, the story has stayed with me ever since. An overflowing abundance of imagination, wonder, and mystery introduced me to worlds of fantasy that I had only begun to discover. I became overwhelmed with Lyra's universe, and, similar to other books I read around then, my naiveté prevented me from fully understanding the controversial and important themes the novel unveils. Who cares if they’re going off to battle God, my thought process went, when you have multiple universes to explore?
When I re-read the trilogy this year, I appreciated it for many reasons, but an almost entirely unique set from my 12-year-old self. This time, it was the tremendous prose and world building that made for such a compelling fantasy universe; the illuminating references and allegories, mostly surrounding the corruption and hypocrisy of organized religion; the strength and charisma of Lyra and the following she inspired. I’m sure I knew none of the authors with epigraphs in book three before; now, their perspectives were valued new pieces that deepened the underlying themes and message. Of course, I also saw places where the story suddenly fell flat — some supporting characters are surprisingly one-dimensional, a few plot holes and inconsistencies are surprisingly obvious to an adult, and deus ex machina is used liberally, to the point of cheapening some plot points. However, the strongest points were obvious on both readings: the imagination, the rich descriptions, the creativity, and the characterizations that brought me so quickly and warmly into these worlds.
I have to admit, there is one other item in the book that made it so remarkable to me at that young age: the depiction of love in the story. This, obviously, was the Lyra/Will situation. I realize now how arbitrary and uncomfortable it is to read, given their ages, not to mention abrupt; the entire romance thread seems an unnecessary tack-on to an otherwise complete epic. But, on my first read, it was shocking and beautiful. To my mid-pubescent self, eager to understand this strange new emotion, it was a perfect form of love. Upon this re-read, I took a minute to shake my head sadly at that earlier interpretation, and moved on. This time, the strongest aspect of love was the sense of love and loyalty and sacrifice that was shared between the main characters — that was a true joy.
Regardless of how I changed in the many years between my readings, it’s clear that this is a story I will always love. I can’t imagine growing up without it, and I would encourage others to include it as a must-read fantasy novel for their own children. Welcoming Lyra into your world is well worth the investment into reading the full trilogy.
(Bonus: This edition includes “lantern slides”, paragraph-long snapshots of omitted scenes in each book. It works wonderfully, exposing a tiny amount more story, just enough to satisfy.)...more